Leslie A. Hakala is a Senior Associate at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP’s Santa Monica office, practicing in a wide range of civil litigation areas including class actions, complex commercial litigation, privacy, securities and consumer fraud, elder and dependent adult abuse, whistleblower claims, employment law, and corporate governance. Leslie has also worked on pro bono matters for CAST (Coalition to Abolish Sex Trafficking), the DRLC (Disability Rights Legal Center), Public Counsel, as well as represented detained immigrants in removal proceedings.
Leslie received her Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, in Economics from Harvard College. While at Harvard, Leslie was the Student Representative on the Economics Department Advisory Committee; she also tutored a blind student in math and volunteered with a Boston-based organization that helped Russian immigrants adjust to life in the United States. Leslie received her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she served on the Admissions Committee of the Yale Law Journal and worked as a research assistant for Professor Akhil Amar. Following law school, Leslie clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; served as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General; and then clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Leslie spent 13 years as Senior Counsel in the Enforcement Division of the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, investigating and litigating a wide range of cases involving fraud and other violations of the federal securities laws.
Leslie grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and misses frequent thunderstorms. When not working, Leslie enjoys spending time with her children, assembling complicated Lego kits, and studying and practicing foreign languages.
While at the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission and/or U.S. Department of Justice:
SEC v. ARVCO Capital Research LLC, et al., Lit. Rel. No. 22342 (April 23, 2011).
- Working closely with the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Secret Service, Ms. Hakala conducted a high profile, priority investigation into private equity funds’ use of placement agents to secure multi-billion dollar investments from California’s public pension
- Following the investigation, based upon Ms. Hakala’s recommendation, the SEC charged the ex-CEO of CalPERS and his close friend (a placement agent) with fraud for falsifying CalPERS documents (complete with a fake CalPERS logo) to trick a prominent private equity firm into paying approximately $20 million in placement agent
- A subsequent federal criminal indictment based on the facts developed by Ms. Hakala led the ex-CEO of CalPERS to plead guilty to falsifying documents and accepting other bribes and kickbacks from his friend.
In the Matter of CMKM Diamonds, Inc., Initial Decision Rel. No. 291 (July 12, 2005) and related matters from 2004 - 2018.
- Ms. Hakala investigated a long-running penny stock “pump and dump” scheme involving the fraudulent offer and sale of over 700 billion shares of worthless CMKM Diamonds stock to over 40,000 investors, yielding ill-gotten gains in excess of $80 million.
- Ms. Hakala first chaired a contentious administrative proceeding, in which she successfully persuaded the Chief Administrative Law Judge of the SEC that de-registering all of CMKM Diamonds’ stock was in the public interest.
- Subsequently, with authorization from the Commission, Ms. Hakala filed and successfully litigated a civil injunctive action in federal district court against 14 defendants in connection with the CMKM Diamonds penny stock fraud, including the masterminds of the scheme, their nominees, an attorney, three individuals associated with a broker-dealer, and (in the first SEC case of its kind) the penny stock company’s transfer In aggregate, the court ordered the defendants to pay over $70 million in disgorgement and penalties.
- Relying heavily on assistance from Ms. Hakala, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada indicted 10 individual defendants; extradited several of the wrongdoers from Europe; and successfully prosecuted each of the defendants who remained alive at the time of trial.
In the Matter of Advanced Cell Technology, Inc., Exch. Act Rel. No. 73066, and In the Matter of Gary. H. Rabin, Exch. Act Rel. No. 73067 (Sept. 10, 2014).
- After gathering the relevant evidence, and with the Commission’s authorization, Ms. Hakala brought the first ever SEC enforcement action charging both a publicly traded company and its ex-CEO with fraud for the (purportedly) technical violation of failing to file Section 16(a) reports regarding the ex-CEO’s stock holdings and transactions in a timely and accurate manner.
- Both respondents immediately settled all charges by agreeing to all of the relief sought by the SEC.
SEC v. Banc de Binary Ltd. et al., Lit. Rel. No. 22767 (Aug. 1, 2013).
- In close collaboration with the CFTC and with financial regulators in at least four European countries, Ms. Hakala conducted an expedited investigation into Banc de Binary’s apparently illegal offer and sale of unregistered “binary options” to S. investors over the Internet from foreign countries (in this case, Cyprus and Israel).
- With the Commission’s authorization, Ms. Hakala and her trial team sought and obtained a preliminary injunction prohibiting Banc de Binary and/or its affiliates from offering or selling binary options to U.S. investors. In granting the motion for a preliminary injunction, the federal district court concluded – in the first published opinion on point – that binary options are, in fact, “securities” subject to the regulation by the SEC.
- Faced with the prospect of having to produce extensive (likely inculpatory) materials in discovery, Banc de Binary and its affiliates reached a settlement agreement with the SEC pursuant to which, among other things, they agreed (1) to a permanent injunction prohibiting them from offering or selling binary options to U.S. investors, and (2) to refund $0.87 cents for every $1.00 they illegally obtained from their former U.S. customers.
SEC v. Horizon Property Holdings, L.C., et al., Lit. Rel. No. 21088 (June 17, 2009).
- After conducting an accelerated investigation and obtaining emergency authorization from the Commission, Ms. Hakala sought and obtained a TRO in federal district court which immediately halted a Ponzi scheme. The scheme specifically targeted poor and unsophisticated immigrants (often with rudimentary English skills) and tricked them into transferring the titles to their homes to defendants, based solely on the defendants’ false promises to rescue the immigrants’ homes from
- A federal criminal prosecution based largely on the allegations in Ms. Hakala’s complaint followed. The defendants pled guilty, were ordered to pay more than $5.1 million in restitution, and sentenced to five years in
In the Matter of Easylink Services Corp., Exch. Act Rel. No. 51506 (April 7, 2005).
- Ms. Hakala successfully investigated this financial misstatement/accounting fraud case, which involved the improper accounting treatment of “check swap” barter transactions for internet advertising. She then drafted a proposed order instituting administrative proceedings and at the same time negotiated a global settlement with Easylink and its ex-CFO, both of which the Commission approved.
- Because then-Chairman of the SEC, William Donaldson, had been a member of Easylink’s board of directors and audit committee during the relevant period, Ms. Hakala conducted her investigation both with particular discretion (within the agency) and with transparency (when conferring with a specially designated monitor outside the agency).
In the Matter of Scott Monson, Initial Decision Rel. No. 331 (June 15, 2007).
- Ms. Hakala co-chaired a litigated administrative proceeding regarding a broker-dealer’s general counsel’s liability for firm’s improper market timing and late trading in mutual funds.
SEC v. Kris Klinger, Lit. Rel. No. 18333 (Sept. 9, 2003).
- With the Commission’s approval, Ms. Hakala brought a settled insider-trading case involving a bank officer’s misappropriation of confidential information regarding a pending acquisition by one of the bank’s
S. v. McDonald, 194 F.3d 175 (D. C. Cir. 1999).
- Ms. Hakala successfully briefed and argued a criminal appeal regarding Fourth Amendment rights before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
While in Private Practice:
In the Matter of I.S., A#[redacted], San Francisco Immigration Court (Jan. 9, 2020).
- Ms. Hakala represented I.S., a young Tunisian woman seeking asylum who was detained by ICE for over 8 months in a remote location at a for-profit facility where 100 women had to share one dormitory room.
- I.S., who was raised in an orthodox Muslim region of Tunisia, and whose family is devoutly Muslim, met and fell in love with a Jewish man from Israel while she was traveling abroad. The couple secretly married in Turkey, but I.S. had to return to Tunisia to wait for a visa to join her husband; at about the same time, I.S. also secretly began the process of converting from Islam to Judaism. Unfortunately, her family – and within hours, her entire neighborhood – discovered the truth about her husband and her plans to convert. For her apostasy, I.S. was brutally attacked with rocks and a steel pipe; was repeatedly interrogated and accused of treason by the Tunisian national police; and was targeted for an “honor killing” at her family’s behest. Fearing for her life, I.S. fled Tunisia. In May 2019, I.S. arrived at the U.S. border, and in broken English, tried to explain her situation to immigration authorities and requested asylum. She was immediately taken into custody and sent to an ICE detention center in central California; ignoring her pleas for help and asylum, DHS/ICE officials initiated removal proceedings against I.S. to return her to Tunisia.
- Ms. Hakala quickly learned that I.S.’s English skills were limited. I.S. was the only detainee at the detention center who spoke Arabic, and the detention center library literally had no books in Arabic – not even an Arabic-English dictionary. Moreover, practically speaking, ICE rules effectively prevented detainees from possessing items such as electronic translators or even hard-cover books (and likewise prohibited attorneys from bringing such items into the secured visitation rooms). By purchasing and donating an Arabic-English dictionary to the detention center library, however, which I.S. promptly checked out and brought with her to her attorney visits, Ms. Hakala devised a slow but effective way to communicate directly with her client.
- Ms. Hakala arranged for an expert witness to testify in support of I.S.’s asylum application, and (with the help of I.S.’s siblings) obtained and submitted medical records from Tunisia verifying I.S.’s physical assaults, as well as affidavits from witnesses confirming her story. Following a three-day trial, and over the (inexplicably) strenuous opposition of DHS, Ms. Hakala successfully persuaded the San Francisco Immigration Court to grant I.S.’s application for asylum.
- After over eight months of detention, and just three hours after the court granted I.S. asylum, ICE released I.S. from custody, leaving her to wander the streets of an unfamiliar high-crime town in central California alone, without any money, cell phone, or even shoelaces. Notified of I.S.’s release, Ms. Hakala immediately set out to find her client on the streets, took her to Target to buy necessities, and stayed with her until I.S.’s husband (who lived in another state) arrived to pick her up.
West v. Calvert, et al., LASC Case No. BC708415
- Ms. Hakala represented Natalie West, the victim of a prominent Beverley Hills plastic surgeon who, after performing an initial operation on Ms. West, persuaded her that she needed 12 additional surgical procedures to repair problems stemming from his prior procedures; all the while, the physician was charging—and receiving--hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ms. West’s health insurance company without her knowledge or consent.
- In addition, the physician expressly told Ms. West that he personally would be performing her operations when, in fact, he instead allowed USC residents to operate on Ms. West, again without her knowledge or consent. The case attracted significant media attention, leading other victims of the doctor’s fraudulent and abusive practices to come forward and seek Ms. Hakala’s assistance.
Consultant to Various Investment Management Firms
- Ms. Hakala regularly serves as a consultant to various investment management firms, advising them about potential outcomes of enforcement actions brought by the SEC and/or other regulatory agencies against publicly traded companies, in order to help her clients make smart investment decisions and accurately value the companies’ securities in light of litigation and other risks.
- Keeping Secrets: Religious Duty vs. Professional ObligationWashburn Law Journal, Volume 38, No. 3, Summer 1999
- Implementing Rule 10b5-1 Stock Trading PlansInsights: The Corporate & Securities Law Advisor, 06.01.2001
- The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 4, 1997
American Bar Association -- Section on Litigation
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Beverly Hills Bar Association
Consumer Attorneys of California
Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Bar Association
National Association of Women Lawyers
Securities and Exchange Commission Alumni Association
SIFMA Compliance & Legal Society (C&L)
Society for Corporate Governance
State Bar of California
Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles
Disability Rights Legal Center (Member Board of Directors & Co-Chair of Finance Committee), 2016-2018
- Antitrust & Global Competition
- Commercial Litigation
- Consumer Protection Class Actions
- Defective Products / Mass Torts
- Elder Abuse
- Employment Law
- False Claims / Whistleblower Law
- Municipal & Public Entity Litigation
- Personal Injury & Wrongful Death
- Privacy & Intellectual Property
- Securities / Financial Fraud
- Shareholder Rights / Corporate Governance
- magna cum laude in Economics
- On Yale Law Journal and Yale Law & Policy Review
- 1997-1998 -- Judge Alex Kozinski, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in Pasadena, CA)
- 1998-1999 -- Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice (in Washington, D.C.)
- 1999-2000 -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court (in Washington, D.C.)
- U.S. District Court, Central District of California
- U.S. District Court, Southern District of California
- U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California
- U.S. District Court, Northern District of California
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
- U.S. Supreme Court
- All EOIR Immigration Courts and Bureau of Immigration Appeals
- Spanish - proficient, but not fluent
- Russian - rudimentary